Day 174: CMS Masterclass

Usually, my AP Physics B class does a version of the CMS Masterclass in our particle physics unit before the AP exam. However, this year, due to school being cancelled due to polar vortices, it was postponed until now. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to attend an official Masterclass, but we are still using the 2014 materials. We are exploring the W, Z, and Higgs bosons. I introduced the lab today, and students started characterizing events. I’ll share the mass plot when we finish on Thursday. I can’t recommend the CMS Masterclass too strongly; seek one out and get your students involved in it!

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(You can see in the photo the students using iSpy Online to visualize events from CMS.)

  ##particlephysics ##cmsmasterclass ##tech  

Day 173: Robots Take Shape

The students in my computer science class have their robots built and now learning about the capabilities of the sensors and working on the software. The instruction manual for the LEGO MINDSTORMS NXT has a sample robot, and I shared a link to the NXT Programs’ Express-Bot. Still, most groups end up creating their own robot tailored to the challenge. I love the variety of designs!

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  ##lego ##mindstorms  

Day 172: Mechanical Waves Whiteboards

The final unit for Honors Physics is mechanical waves (including sound). After a couple of days of exploring mechanical waves with Slinkies, we prepared and presented whiteboards of our observations and conclusions. This group did an excellent job presenting their measurements regarding the effect that amplitude and pulse width has on wave speed:

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I was pleased that after almost a year, students are getting more comfortable with the idea that, due to measurement uncertainty, different measurements may indicate that no relationship exists!

  ##whiteboarding ##mwm  

Day 171: New Science Pathway for School District

Today, my school district’s Science Curriculum Team met again. The primarily goal of the high school teachers on the team was to finalize our school district’s science pathway for high school. As many of you can imagine, this topic has generated significant debate and consternation. We were threatened with not being allowed to leave for lunch until a decision was made, which may have provided extra motivation. After reviewing Lexile scores and math readiness based on Common Core, we somewhat anticlimactically confirmed the decision to have the following pathway: 9th grade – Chemistry with integrated Earth Science; 10th grade – Biology with integrated Earth Science; 11th grade – Physics with integrated Earth Science. Seniors would have the option to take a variety of AP science courses and other electives.

We spent the rest of the day focused on how best to integrate the NGSS Earth Science performance expectations into each of the three courses. We still have some work to do in this area.

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I hope that our next effort is focused on creating an engaging narrative that ties all three science courses together so students see it as a single progression and not three disjoint classes they have to take.

  ##ngss ##standards  

Day 170: LEGO MINDSTORMS in AP Computer Science

Now that the AP Computer Science exam is over and we’ve finished our capstones (more on those later), we finish the year building LEGO MINDSTORM NXT robots and programming them in Java using leJOS. This is a perfect project for the end of the year because it is extremely engaging, leverages everything we’ve studied this year, and adds a new element of the interaction between software and the real world. Last year, the students built sumo bots and competed against each other. Based on reflection and what I learned at last summer’s Tapestry Workshop, this year’s challenge is less directly competitive. Students have to design, build, and program a robot to push six peanut butter jars out of a circle without having the robot leave the circle. Underclasses, who are in school after the seniors graduate, have the additional challenge of having their robot placed in a “house” (a box with an open side) in the center of the circle from which they must first escape.

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  ##lego ##mindstorms  

Day 169: Hubble’s Law Lab

Now that the exam is over, my AP Physics B class will spend the rest of the year exploring more cosmology and particle physics. We already did a little cosmology when the BICEP-2 results were announced and we did an abbreviated particle physics unit before reviewing for the AP exam. My “target” for today’s class was: “determine the age of the observable universe”.

After much searching, I found an excellent Hubble’s Law lab from the University of Washington. I reviewed several labs and decided this was the best for several reasons: students examine actual data of galaxies, students use spectra to calculate the redshift, and students use the apparent angular size to calculate the distance. The materials published by the University of Washington are excellent and include a complete spreadsheet to assist in the analysis. We need another day to finish examining galaxies, plotting data, and calculating the age of the observable universe.

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  ##cosmology ##paradigmlab  

Day 168: Circuits Lab Practicum

Honors Physics students had their circuits lab practicum today. There were two parts. For the first, they had to construct a three-resistor circuit diagram on a breadboard from a circuit diagram and a collection of resistors, measure the current through the power supply and each resistor, measure the voltage across the power supply and each resistor, and calculate the resistance of the unknown resistor. For the second part, they could work with the assistance of a partner and determine the circuit diagram corresponding to the collection of lights at the station. The electrical connections between the sockets were obscured by a cloth, and students were only permitted to remove lightbulbs in order to determine the circuit diagram. This second part is one of my favorite lab practicums!

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  ##circuits ##practicumlab